“Maybe it’ll be different this time. Maybe there won’t be any shit going down.”
Yeah, right. At last, E4 have brought us the long-anticipated third series of their hit teen/comedy/drama/fantasy show Misfits, a surprise hit when it debuted a couple of years ago. Dismissed early on as Skins meets Heroes, the show was far more vital, far more inventive, and just far more scatologically funny than either of those. An everyday tale of five disparate young people on community service who unexpectedly gain superpowers, it was witty, well-written and well-acted.
Having successfully pulled off the “difficult second album” with series 2, series 3 actually has a bit more to deal with in terms of weight of expectations. An admittedly somewhat convoluted timey-wimey storyline has meant that writer Howard Overman has to pay very close attention to continuity, without alienating the viewers with masses of back references. On top of that, at the end of the last series, our heroes finished their community service, meaning that there was really no reason for them to stay together as a group. In order to retain the show’s flavour, it was necessary to get them back on the wrong side of the law. And to cap it all, loudmouthed (but funny) Nathan has left, as Robert Sheehan took advantage of his star-making turn to leap into a movie career.
Replacing Nathan was always going to be difficult. With his cocky attitude, loud mouth and propensity for highly inappropriate sexual references, he may not have been the smartest of the group, but he certainly stood out the most. This first episode of the new series rightly concentrated on presenting us with a new super-powered character to replace him, as we met Rudy, incarnated by Joseph Gilgun (best known as the hapless Woody in This Is England and Eli Dingle in Emmerdale).
At first glance, Rudy seemed a little like a carbon copy of Nathan (albeit more Northern and less Irish). He’s loud, he’s cocky, and he has a slightly disturbing fixation with anal sex. But even before the opening credits we got an inkling of how he was going to differ. We first encountered him visiting “that mysterious cool guy who sells powers”, giving us the natural assumption that he wanted to buy one. But as he left after a fracas and cornered his mysterious assailant on a very dangerous looking rooftop, it became clear that he already had a power, and he obviously wanted to get rid of it.
As it turns out, Rudy’s power is that when he’s feeling down or insecure, those parts of his personality physically manifest themselves as another version of him springing from his chest. It’s in keeping with our heroes’ original powers, which reflected their personalities; and that’s where Rudy differs from Nathan. You often got the sense that there was a more sensitive (ie less crass) side to Nathan, but it was only ever hinted at. With Rudy, it’s right out there next to him. Or, more frequently, fighting with him, as his sensitive side seems to have a knack for exposing his insecurities. Their first disagreement on the roof showed that Howard Overman has lost none of his talent for very dirty (and very funny) humour: “Remember in the showers at PE when you got turned on by Richard Saunders soaping his balls? Yeah, and then you thought about it while you wanked into that fake vagina you made of mum’s rubber gloves.”
Gilgun is excellent as Rudy, delivering two quite distinct performances as the different versions of him. His public face is so boorish as to be almost a cartoon, but when the morose version pops out, you realise there’s more to him than someone who loves unprotected anal sex (“Nice girls never get HIV”). And in the calmer moments when he’s not fighting with his other self, both sides reveal themselves to be a bit deeper than the bloke who very publicly gets it on with his girlfriend in a bar (“Is he fingering her? Eww.”).
With Rudy nicely introduced from the outset, and already on community service with two new girls, it was time to wonder what had happened to the heroes we know and love. At the end of the last series, they’d sold their powers to “that mysterious guy” whose own power was to redistribute those of others (following this?). Finding normal life less rewarding, they’d gone back to him and asked to buy their powers back; but he’d already sold them on, so they had their pick of a bunch of new ones. The question, at the opening of this series, was which powers they’d got.
The script cleverly eked out this information throughout the episode. We first found out that gobby Kelly (Lauren Socha, still superb this year) has now got the power of being… a rocket scientist. Literally. Her only ability is to design rockets. This turns out not to be all it’s cracked up to be, as her attempt to sell a design for a ballistic missile fell foul of a snobbish CEO who refused to believe that anyone who sounded like her could be capable of designing rocket propulsion systems. On the face of it, this power seems rather rubbish, but Overman has previously shown ingenuity at making each power crucial to one story or another – I look forward to seeing what plotline that’s going to resolve.
Curtis, meanwhile, has lost his ability to reverse time and change the outcome of events (which always felt like a copout way of getting out of things, anyway). And like Kelly, his new power, on the face of it, doesn’t seem that useful. He can change into a girl. And that’s it. The same girl each time, a female version of himself (causing Rudy to muse “I’ve always fancied a vagina… mind, I’ve heard they’re quite high maintenance, cleaning and that”). This is a bit of a sore point for Curtis, who admitted, “I was the last one to pick, and all the other powers had gone”. But it’s already been useful evading a pursuing policeman, and I’m guessing there’ll be some interesting… sexual issues coming up as the series progresses.
Alisha can now put herself “into someone else’s shoes”, and see what they’re seeing – potentially very useful. And Simon? Well, as of this episode, we still don’t know what Simon’s new power is, but he’s continuing to grow in confidence as the group’s nominal leader. Iwan Rheon has delivered a cleverly progressing performance as Simon has developed from the painfully shy and slightly creepy introvert of the first series into his destiny as the black-clad “super-hoodie”. This week, we saw him practising the free running we know super-hoodie will be good at, even if he bottled it at one particularly dangerous jump.
The most obviously superhero-like of the characters, Simon’s comic book knowledge is serving him well, and he still has the mysterious Batcave-like lair he inherited from his future self (now there’s a timey-wimey paradox for you). He’s also been working out, and I was rather happy that the new series continues the trend developed last year that every episode will feature at least one scene of him shirtless and displaying his impressively toned body. But exploitation aside, Iwan Rheon continues to give Simon a more mature feel – witness the touching scene this week as he consoled the guilty Alisha, ashamed of her past as “the cockmonster”.
With all this setting up to do for this year’s events, it was perhaps sensible that the actual plot (such as it was) was what has already been established as a standard Misfits story. The gang encounter someone else with a power who’s misusing hit, and have to engage their ingenuity to stop them. This time, it was one of the two new community service girls, who, after a misunderstanding with Rudy’s duplicate, took against him rather. As it turned out, she had the power to freeze people (though not time itself; the frozen barman’s pint continued to pour, overflowing into the drip trays) and do whatever she liked to them. Predictably, this escalated because of Rudy, who declared, “If you fuck me, I’ll fuck you right back with a cherry on top.”
After Rudy had framed her for nicking a charity box, she handily used her power to escape from the police. It all came to ahead as she froze Rudy and his equally anal sex fixated girlfriend, then stabbed her and placed the knife in his hand before they unfroze. And then Alisha happened upon them, and a bit more freezing later, she and Rudy were perched on the back of chairs with nooses round their necks.
This was the first instance of Rudy’s power coming in handy, as his morose other self came to their rescue – though not before Rudy had kicked their attacker over and accidentally killed her. Cue the funny scene in which Rudy is initiated into the Misfits tradition of burying the bodies of those they’ve accidentally killed; Kelly was hysterically blase as she smoked a cigarette and shrugged, “you just bury them and move on”.
But our gang were still free from community service; that is, until they took a ride in Rudy’s car, which turned out not to be Rudy’s car after all, but the property of “some guy with a perm”. It may have seemed a little convenient to get them back onto community service so quickly, but that’s the show’s formula, and Howard Overman is wise enough not to screw with it. Besides, it means they’re back in the purview of amusingly callous probation officer Shaun, who’s managed to somehow not be killed yet. Drily played by Craig Parkinson, Shaun is clearly a spiritual cousin to Mr Gilbert from The Inbetweeners: “I’ve found a new vocation. I’m going to totally rehabilitate you. I’ll get on with that after I’ve watched Homes Under the Hammer.”
A strong start, then, and a likeable new character who seems to work well as a replacement for the much-beloved Nathan. So what’s to come? It looks like “the mysterious guy who sells powers”, aka Seth, is going to be much involved this year. It looks like he’s “lost” a power. And it’s an important one. Perhaps more worryingly, there’s more than a hint that he’s going to end up romantically entwined with Kelly. The Alisha/Simon romance continues to develop, as she matures into something more than “the cockmonster” and he sensitively takes his shirt off once a week to make me happy. And I’m sure Curtis’ sex swapping ability is going to lead to all sorts of confusion, and give Rudy the opportunity to make some really dirty jokes. Watch this space…
Addendum – my Twitter friend Rob Taylor (@Stupid_Face_Rob) has pointed out that it looks like Simon’s power is to see into the immediate future. Hence the bottling out of the jump. I didn’t pick up on that, assuming he was just imagining the result, but I’m sure Rob’s right!